Google Home: Playing Catch-Up to Amazon’s Echo?

Google's new smart speaker is at once a secretary, a librarian and a radio. Ask about your day, and the Home speaker will give you the time, weather, estimated commute, the news and upcoming calendar appointments. It will convert miles into feet, and dollars into euros. Want to hear Adele or Coldplay? Home will fetch you some tunes.

If this sounds familiar, it's because Amazon has already been at it for about two years. Its Echo speaker can do what Home does and more, thanks to Amazon's head start in partnering with third-party services such as Domino's Pizza and Fitbit. But Home [pictured above] is smarter in a few other ways, as it taps what it knows about you from Gmail, Maps and other Google services. Home is also $50 cheaper, at about $130 (though Amazon offers a mini "Echo Dot" version for just $50).

At Your Command

Think of both Home and Echo as extensions of your iPhone or Android device. Sure, I can check weather on the phone, but why not just ask the speaker as I'm getting dressed? And no need to lift a finger to check the calendar. With guests over, I can resolve trivia disputes using voice searches and avoid screens. This week, I was able to keep tabs on the Chicago Cubs' quest to break a century-long World Series drought.

Both devices work as alarm clocks or timers -- great in the kitchen. Both can control lights, thermostats and other internet-connected appliances, though you need capable devices first.

Of course, I have to get used to speaking aloud with no one around. Privacy is a concern, too, once I enable all the features. Anyone within hearing distance will know when I'm seeing the doctor or leaving my apartment empty for vacation. Home and Echo are continually listening for commands,...

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